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28 Aug 2014

The “Big Three” Time Wasters in Business

Ragged ClockThe big three time wasters in business are emails, meetings and white tape, companies’ internal bureaucracies. All three aren’t new to most; however, what might be new is their severity. The problem isn’t just pain and suffering – our complaining. It’s also hard attacks on productivity.

For instance, McKinsey found people spending 20% of their time reading and writing emails. Highly skilled office workers can spend over 25%. Since 1970, the number of external communications managers receive have increased from 1,000 a year to 30,000 a year today. Moreover, initial research shows senior managers’ emailing habits drive those of their firms.

Continuing, Bain & Company found managers spending 15% of their time in meetings, increasing every year since 2008. Senior executives spend 40%. Among meetings, videoconferences can be the most inefficient especially as the ratio of attendees to presenters increases. Excessive collaboration contributes too to a meeting-happy culture.

Finally, white tape refers to all the documentation and reporting necessary to accomplish things; keeping score is more important than scoring. Twenty percent of people’s time is spent delivering information that the requester already knows. Adding a front-line manager creates enough additional work for 1.3 people, adding a senior executive creates work for 4.2 people. Beyond their own work, they create work for others and for assistants that support their work. We more commonly experience this as “empire building.”

“Decluttering the Company” (The Economist, August 2, 2014 edition) excellently summarizes and elaborates on all three. Yet, the challenge is overcoming our emotional biases to curtail these. For example, our emails help us feel important. Commanding the time of others feeds emotional requirements. Extraversion encourages interactions.

Ironically, technology was to free us from these. In reality, it gave us more time to answer more emails, attend more meetings and to document more activities.


5 Responses

  1. Here’s the problem – according to ME at least: EVERYONE is looking for the quick, perfect solution, procedure, answer, … AND GUESS WHAT??? They don’t exist!!!!

    Kids in school are typically told: “Do this and you’re all set!” Too many educators follow up that instruction with “assessment” that verifies for the student and far too many family, friends, managers, … that indeed they are all set!

    But of course, they aren’t … My basic thesis, supported by my experience and oh, so many quotes (Albert Einstein: “You can’t solve the important problems of today with the knowledge available when they were created), verifies that EFFECTIVE LIFELONG LEARNING and CRITICAL THINKING and EFFECTIVE PROBLEM SOLVING are required to have useful outcomes!!!!

    Too many educators, learners, managers, owners, policy makers, politicians, … do NOT have these skills and, even worse, don’t see any of them as needed (“just do as I say / mandate and you’ll be the success everyone knew you’d be!!!). Effective lifelong learning, critical thinking, and effective problem solving must be strong capabilities to remotely approach anyone’s potential.

    Say, as of now, for most students, another Albert Einstein quote is so true: (paraphrasing I’m sure) “To be successful, you must unlearn everything from your formal schooling!!!”

    1. The actual Albert Einstein quote: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Sentiment I believe is the same even if the paraphrasing is quite a bit off!!!!

  2. Love the Einstein references.

    One of the areas described is relatively easy to change: the meeting culture. We ‘collect’ great meeting techniques, use them and teach them. Typical response from a huge engineering company: “We reduced our weekly top management meetings from 90 minutes to 50 minutes. We get more done – and we have more fun.” We also teach such techniques to school classes.

    So don’t despair. And we’re happy to share – more than happy, in fact!

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